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Werner Produces Rare Feats in NHL Debut

Swede became first Avalanche goalie to win his debut in relief

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

WINNIPEG, Manitoba--Adam Werner didn't have time to think about making his NHL debut. He was thrust into action and was counted on to stop the puck.

He ended up denying all 40 that he faced.

"Of course there were some nerves, but just get in there in a short time," Werner said of jumping into action mid-game. "Just try to have fun and play my game."

It was a historic night for the goaltender from Mariestad, Sweden, as he came in in relief of injured starter Pavel Francouz to help the Colorado Avalanche open a five-game road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday night.

"[He] was awesome. He was making saves all over the place, 5-on-5, some of those turnovers, power play, just looked real solid and square to the puck," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. "Sometimes you get thrown into the heat of the battle when you're not expecting it. He had a great performance, and our guys were all abuzz. You could tell that they were really happy for him."

Francouz got hurt 31 seconds after the opening faceoff in a collision with the Jets' Mark Scheifele, who was driving toward the net with the puck. Already without Philipp Grubauer, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, Francouz stayed on the ice for several moments before being taken to the locker room by the Avs' training staff.

Enter Werner, who became the first Avs keeper to make his debut in relief of an injured fellow puck-stopper since Calvin Pickard did it on Oct. 16, 2014 at the Ottawa Senators.

"Of course you hope he keeps playing and is not hurt, but when he went off just get prepared and warmed up," Werner said of the circumstances that involved him playing his first NHL game. "Try and go out there and have fun and just play my game."

Video: Adam Werner after making 40 saves in his NHL debut

The Avalanche's 2016 fifth-round pick (No. 131 overall) stopped every Jets shot on the night and shared the shutout with Francouz, marking only the second time in franchise history two goalies combined for a shutout (Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier against the Chicago Blackhawks, March 30, 2018).

"Amazing, I mean we had no idea what he was capable of, we just shot on him a few times in practice and morning skate. He's a gamer," said Nathan MacKinnon, who had a four-point night with two goals and two assists. "Obviously he didn't look nervous at all, looked very comfortable. I think he came over from the Swedish Elite League and was really amazing over there last season so what a performance by him and a great start to his career."

Werner is in his first season in North America and had played in nine games with the Avs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, before making his first NHL call-up on Thursday after Grubauer got hurt. He posted a 5-4 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with the Eagles.

Video: COL@WPG: Werner boosts Avalanche to win in NHL debut

The keeper is no stranger to pro hockey however, as he's been playing full time on the men's circuit in his native Sweden for the past three years. He guarded the pipes for Bjorkloven in the second-tier Allsvenskan league for two seasons before sharing the starting role in Farjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in 2018-19. Last year, he recorded a 15-6-3 record, posting the SHL's third-best save percentage at .926 and fourth-best goals-against average at 2.02.

"I played a lot of games back in Sweden, and different types of games," Werner said. "Getting into games in the middle of them and then being pulled out and starting games, start a few in a row. A lot of different situations, so it helped me a lot I think."

One of the biggest differences from the European game to the one played in North America is the amount of net front traffic. The ice surface is smaller in the NHL, and the lack of square footage results in players crashing to the low slot more frequently to disrupt a goalie's sightlines and to bang in any rebounds.

That was especially the case against the Jets, who had the size advantage over the Avalanche. Winnipeg's players on its active roster average 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, while Colorado comes in at 6-feet and 194 pounds.

"They are a big team and have a lot of screens and tips," Werner said. "You need to try and see the puck all the time. With the help from the guys, it was pretty easy to see the puck. So just focus on making the first save."

Video: Jared Bednar after the 4-0 win at the Winnipeg Jets

Defenseman Ian Cole said Werner's teammates knew the tough position that their goalie was coming in to and had to be smart with the puck.

"Everyone on our D and on our bench was very aware of the situation. We said, 'Hey we got to be better. We got to tighten it up.' I think there was still room for improvement in that, but Werner played great and made some good saves for us."

Werner's performance was rare, as he became the first goaltender in the franchise's 40-year history to win his NHL debut while coming in relief. He is the first netminder in Avs history (since 1995-96) to win in his league debut since Vitaly Kolesnik on Dec. 7, 2005 and the fourth overall, also joining David Aebischer (Oct. 18, 2000) and Peter Budaj (Oct. 8, 2005).

The 22-year-old is the ninth NHL goaltender to record 40 or more saves in his debut since 1955-56 when the statistics officially began being tracked.

Posting a shutout in a relief appearance in his first NHL game wasn't something that Werner said he thought would have happened following the contest, but he was going to be ready for whenever his time would come between the pipes.

"You need to have a dream and a big dream out there," Werner said. "Work for it and prepare yourself for it to happen."

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